High School Sports

Players happy to sacrifice for title shots

Ask any high school football player what he'd rather be doing for Thanksgiving.

Sleeping late because school's out, getting up and watching the parades on TV, sitting around and getting a good whiff of the food being prepared in the kitchen or running around with friends.

The answer would be none of the above. There's plenty of time for that later in the day. They'd rather be practicing football. With only 10 teams still playing, it means those that are are closing in on state championships.

Two will be decided today at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. First up is Blackville-Hilda vs. Great Falls in the Class A Division II title game at noon, followed by the Class A Division I game between Chesterfield and Carver's Bay.

Great Falls isn't the only Herald-area team left standing. Three others are playing in the state semifinals tonight with berths to next weekend's state championship games at USC's Williams-Brice Stadium going to the winners.

Northwestern travels to Byrnes in the Class AAAA Division I playoffs. The winner plays Summerville or Gaffney next Saturday at 3 p.m.

Clover is on the road against Ridge View at Blythewood High School in Class AAAA Division II. The winner faces the survivor of tonight's Berkeley/Beaufort game next Friday at 8 p.m.

Chester is home in the Class AAA Upper State championship game against Union County. Next up for the winner is a 6 p.m. game next Saturday against the winner of tonight's Lower State championship, which pits Wilson against Crestwood.

Great Falls (11-2) is making its first trip to the state championship since 1991, when the Red Devils beat Timmonsville 15-14 on a 2-point conversion with less than 20 seconds remaining.

You have to go all the way back to 1934 to find Great Falls' other championship, when the late Banks McFadden proved to be one of the best football players in the state.

But these Red Devils are not looking to the past. Their eyes have been on the future all week and the day has finally arrived when they can put their names in the state record book.

Great Falls coach Kenny Schofield said he hopes it's a close game, that if it comes down to going for two like in 1991, the first thing he'll do is pray.

"You can't say how you would react if that happens,'' Schofield said. "But I do know that if it's a low-scoring game that means were are playing good defense and that would be fine with me.

"It will be a physical game, but that's not a concern because we play in a physical region. Blackville-Hilda (10-3) is physical, so they would fit into our region well.''

While the defenses are similar, fans will see contrasting offenses. Blackville-Hilda prefers the running game. The Hawks have rushed 537 times for 3,363 yards. They have attempted 46 passes, completing 17 for 264 yards.

"We're just trying to survive,'' Hawks coach David Berry said. "We won the state championship in 2005, but we can't live in the past. When you get this far, there is no comfort zone.

"Great Falls is big up front, has tremendous size. And they are fast. We have our work cut out for us because they haven't given up a lot of points.''

Offensively, the Hawks have averaged 302 yard and 24.6 points each game. Great Falls is close behind with 288 yards and 27.6 points a game.

Great Falls' offense is not quite 50-50, but the Red Devils have rushed for 2,950 yards and passed for 1,217, with quarterback Gaither Bumgardner accounting for 1,127 of those yards.

"We had some personal tragedies and some stuff on the field (this season),'' said Bumgardner, a 6-foot-6, 195-pound junior. "But we have survived and the problems we've had have made us closer as a unit.''

So will it be a defensive game? The signs point that way.

Great Falls is giving up only 134 total yards and 9.8 point per game, both tops among Herald-area teams. Blackville-Hilda is giving up 226 yards and 10.4 points per game.

Jeremy Simpson, a North-South Game player, is a player to watch when the Red Devils have the football. He has rushed for 1,009 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has caught 33 passes for 426 yards and four TDs.

Terrence Jeter has run for 712 yards and Cedric Spence 448 and 10 touchdowns, so the Red Devils don't rely on one back.

The Hawks to watch are running back Joe Thomas, who has run for 1,331 yards and seven touchdowns, and Desmond Brown, who has 662 rushing yards and 13 TDs. Running back Brandell Gilbert has 496 yards and four touchdowns.

"Great Falls does a lot of things on offense that can hurt you,'' Berry said. "We're going to line up and run a few plays, and hopefully that will work out for us.''

• Great Falls/Blackville-Hilda rosters, stats • 3C